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Solar Storms Spark Auroras Across Northern US

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Nov 30, 2023

A series of powerful solar storms is set to slam into Earth’s magnetic field beginning late Thursday, triggering vibrant Northern Lights displays across northern tier US states if skies remain clear.

Triple Threat Solar Storms Merge en Route to Earth

Three coronal mass ejections (CMEs) erupted from the Sun this week, blasting billions of tons of charged particles towards our planet. The CMEs left the Sun on November 28, 29, and 30, with the latter representing the most powerful of the trio.

As the three solar storm clouds race through space at millions of miles per hour, they are converging and interacting in what scientists call a "cannibal CME." This is creating an intensified storm front – a triple threat for Earth’s magnetic field. [1]

"3 back to back CMEs are about make their combined presence felt at Earth. Storms merged, cannibalized another, intensified,” tweeted space weather physicist Dr. Tamitha Skov on November 30. [2] “When mixed like cosmic batter, the composite can be stronger than its parts as particles feed off each other’s enhanced magnetic fields."

The initial CME impact is predicted for late November 30, likely reaching Earth in the evening hours. This could spark Northern Lights sightings across the northern US Thursday night into early Friday across states like Washington, Montana, the Dakotas, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan if skies are clear. [3]

A stronger geomagnetic storm is forecast to begin November 30 and last through December 1 as the full merged CME cloud strikes. This raises the odds for visible Northern Lights far further south in places like New York, Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, and northern Pennsylvania. [4]

State Northern Lights Visibility
Washington High
Montana High
North Dakota High
Minnesota High
Wisconsin Moderate
Michigan Moderate
New York Low
Wyoming Low
Nebraska Low
Illinois Low
Maine Low
Vermont Low
New Hampshire Low
Pennsylvania Low

Table 1. Predicted Northern Lights visibility by US state for November 30-December 1, 2023 geomagnetic storm, with high, moderate or low chance of sightings.

Solar Superstorms Can Disrupt Radio Signals, GPS

While intense Northern Lights shows excite skywatchers, powerful solar storms can have negative technological impacts here on Earth.

The incoming triple CME threat has the potential to spark a strong G3 or severe G4 class geomagnetic storm. Such space weather events can generate dangerous electrical currents in Earth’s upper atmosphere, interfering with radio signals in the high latitude regions. [5]

There is also risk of degradation to low-frequency navigation signals from GPS and other Global Navigation Satellite Systems. Aviation and marine transportation that rely on GNSS for positioning, navigation and timing should take caution.

Radio blackouts and GPS disruptions are more likely near the North Pole, however lower latitudes could still experience minor impacts.

Power grid fluctuations also pose concern during extreme solar storms. Voltage alarms were triggered in high voltage power networks during a moderate March 1989 space weather event which knocked out power across the entire province of Quebec, Canada. [6]

While significant power grid disturbances are unlikely from the current event, grid operators across the northern US will increase monitoring and operations to prevent equipment damage if needed.

The ongoing triple CME storm is the result of active previously numbered AR3190 – one of the largest sunspot groups observed in decades. [7] The mega sunspot is wider than 15 Earths and continues firing off solar flares as it rotates across the Earth-facing side of the Sun this week.

The CMEs themselves were ejected by M-class solar flares from sunspot AR3190 on November 28, 29 and 30. These medium strength M-flares represented the most significant solar activity since October 2021.

What’s Next – Calm Before the Next Space Weather Storm

While the current triple CME geomagnetic storm grabs headlines this week, the active weather on the Sun is expected to settle down in the near term.

"Once this Cannibal CME passes, space weather looks quiet for next 5-7 days before next solar storm threat," tweeted Dr. Tamitha Skov.

The temporary quiet stretch follows weeks of heightened activity on the Sun. More than 300 solar flares have erupted from sunspot AR3190 during November 2023 alone as it traversed the Earth-facing solar disc. This includes over 40 M-class flares, the type that can generate Earth-directed CME storms if oriented the right direction. [8]

During the expected post-storm lull, the large sunspot AR3190 will continue rotating toward the Western solar limb before going out of direct view from Earth.

While departing for now, AR3190 will return 2 weeks later once it completes another solar rotation – armed with the potential for yet another round of intense flares and CME eruptions. The Sun follows an 11-year cycle of quiet and active periods, with activity steadily increasing toward an eventual peak called solar maximum in 2025.

In other words – the break in stormy space weather will only be temporary. More sunspot groups are likely to emerge in 2024-2025 as the next solar cycle continues ramping up toward an increasingly turbulent climax.

References

[1] https://www.space.com/cannibal-cme-solar-outburst-will-hit-earth-dec-1-2023-triggering-auroras

[2] https://twitter.com/TamithaSkov/status/1729634110602441113

[3] https://www.foxweather.com/earth-space/earth-solar-eruptions-geomagnetic-storm-watch

[4] https://www.masslive.com/weather/2023/11/northern-lights-may-be-visible-in-massachusetts-on-thursday-into-friday.html

[5] https://www.livemint.com/science/news/solar-storm-set-to-strike-earth-today-from-internet-disruption-to-gps-signals-what-to-expect-11701307135360.html

[6] https://mes.kuku.lu.se/download/18.5f02ce1d179b83533f8ff635/1604365059169/Solstormer.pdf

[7] https://www.wionews.com/science/cluster-of-dark-spots-15-times-wider-than-earth-spotted-on-sun-scientists-issue-warning-662004

[8] https://twitter.com/TamithaSkov/status/1729741770635063363

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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